Surviving Television Advertising
Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn,
"I want this."
"No, we're not buying a DoomStar
Caped Marauder today."
"But I need it."
"I said NO. That's not what we're
here for. Put it back right now!"
Loud voices. Loud wails. Another
December afternoon in the toy store
Children are exposed to commercials
all year, but around the December
holidays the barrage of television
advertising intensifies and children
become extra vulnerable to the
pressure. Our sense of moderation is
pitted against bright, talented
ad-agency teams devoted to convincing
kids they can't live without a certain
action figure, computer game, or pair
of brand-name sneakers.
Many children expect that the
holiday season will bring them every
gift on their wish list. As parents,
we may unwittingly nurture this hope
even as we try to balance our
checkbooks. The result can be
disastrous -- disappointed kids and
Don't dismiss ad power
What can we do to minimize the effects
of television advertising? First, we
need to stop underestimating its reach
and power. Did you know that:
Children watch an average of 24
hours of television a week.
Children's programming on
commercial television devotes up to
12 hours to advertising.
On average, children will see
576 or more commercials each week.
Most of today's commercials are
well-designed, carefully tested, and
slickly produced. They're often more
appealing to children than the
programs they sponsor.
What can parents do?
From the moment your kids begin
watching television, talk with them
about the purpose and techniques of
Help young children make the
distinction between the purpose of
an ad (to sell) and the purpose of a
program (to entertain or teach).
Explain that the people who made the
commercials are trying very hard to
sell something. Even three- and
four-year-olds can have fun guessing
what the ad is trying to sell.
As children get a little older,
talk with them about the feelings,
or state of mind, each ad tries to
evoke. "The people who made this ad
want you to think that these
sneakers will make you play
basketball like Michael Jordan. Do
you think a pair of shoes can do
that?" Make a game out of guessing
the underlying messages of the
Talk honestly with kids about
the feelings commercials raise in
you. "I'm tempted to buy that makeup
because I'd like to be that
beautiful." "Those hamburger
commercials make junk food look
soooo good to me." "Even though I
know in my head that none of those
products will really do those
things, sometimes I find myself
believing they will."
Several organizations are working
to control advertising on television.
The Children's Television Act of 1990
limited advertising on children's
programs to 10.5 minutes per hour on
weekends and 12 minutes per hour on
weekdays. This bill was passed because
of lobbying on the part of children's
advocacy organizations and parents.
And don't minimize the importance
of expressing your concern directly to
advertisers. They are far more
inclined to listen -- and respond --
than networks or television stations.
Many have websites that make this kind
of communication easy.
A holiday gift for children
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you
can give your children this holiday
season is to help them set limits on
their commercial consumption. Children
don't always have to accompany you on
holiday shopping expeditions. If you
feel overwhelmed by the array of
products beckoning you to buy them,
remember that children have even fewer
Talk honestly with your children
about the choices you make. Discuss
what other holiday activities you can
enjoy that reflect your family's
values. These conversations will help
children cope successfully with a
consumer-driven world in which -- for
many people -- pure materialism has
become the new religion
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